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Trump lawyer fires back at rape claims as civil trial wraps

Calling no witnesses in a federal trial where three women accused the former president of sexual assault, the defense focused instead on picking apart the claims of Donald Trump's lead accuser.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Throughout the seven-day civil rape trial against Donald Trump, jurors heard witness after witness testify on behalf of E. Jean Carroll, the writer who says Trump raped her in 1996 in a fitting room at the famed Bergdorf Goodman department store in New York City. 

Carroll spent three days on the stand, one of 11 witnesses. Trump did not testify nor put on any defense case, even after the judge gave him a special allowance to do so, should he have a last-minute change of heart about testifying. 

During his closing argument on Monday, the former president’s attorney explained that the lack of a showing was because Carroll's accusation is made up, and one can’t prove the negative.

“There are no witnesses for us to call,” Joseph Tacopina said, “because he wasn’t there. It didn’t happen.” 

Carroll remembers the timing as spring of 1996, and believes the alleged assault happened on a Thursday since Bergdorf’s stays open later that day. But those details are too vague for Trump to use to present an alibi witness, Tacopina argued. 

“With no date, no month, no year, can’t present an alibi,” Tacopina said.

Carroll’s attorney Roberta Kaplan argued that Trump told on himself in two ways. First, despite calling Carroll “not my type” when denying that the two had ever met, Trump mistook her for his ex-wife Marla Maples during his deposition when shown a photo of himself and Carroll meeting.

“E. Jean Carroll, a former cheerleader and Miss Indiana, was exactly Donald Trump’s type,” Kaplan said.  

Second, Kaplan noted, the three women who accused Trump of sexual assault — Carroll, a retired businesswoman named Jessica Leeds, and journalist Natasha Stoynoff, who used to work the “Trump beat” at People magazine — outlined a pattern of Trump initiating friendly chatter then suddenly and aggressively kissing them. That lines up with his words in the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape shown several times to jurors. 

​​“I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you've a star they let you do it,” Trump says in the hot-mic tape, which surfaced in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election. 

“You can do anything,” he continues. “Grab them by the pussy.”

Attorneys for Carroll, who says Trump forced his fingers, then his penis, inside her, said that video is a confession.  

“He pushed her up against a wall and he started kissing her. He didn’t wait,” said Kapla, of the firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink. “He grabbed her, using his words, by the pussy.” 

When asked about his comments on the tape, as seen in the deposition recording that Carroll’s attorneys publicly released on Friday, Trump doubled down.

“Well historically that's true with stars,” Trump says in the video. “If you look over the last million years, I guess that’s been largely true. Not always but largely true. Unfortunately or fortunately.” 

Still from deposition video shows Donald Trump answering questions on October 19, 2022, for the civil rape case against him filed by writer E. Jean Carroll. Carroll's attorneys made the tape publicly available on May 5, 2023, after the trial featured all 48 minutes of the footage. (Kaplan Hecker & Fink via Courthouse News)

The attorney seized on those words in her summation.

“Unfortunately or fortunately? He actually said the word 'fortunately' to describe stars grabbing women. Let that sink in for a minute,” Kaplan said. “Who would say 'fortunately' to describe the act of sexual assault?”

While Carroll did not share her story publicly until 2019, when she detailed it in her book “What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal,” she says she told two friends at the time of the alleged rape. They both testified and backed up her story. 

Fellow writer Lisa Birnbach said Carroll called her, still “breathless, hyperventilating, emotional,” minutes after having rushed out of the department store to get away from Trump. Birnbach remembered that she was feeding her kids when she took the call, and how she urged Carroll to go to the police. Carroll refused. 


The second friend, former local news anchor Carol Martin, gave the opposite advice, telling Carroll to keep it to herself lest Trump and an army of attorneys retaliate. “He will bury you,” Martin recalled telling Carroll. 

Tacopina offered an alternative series of events. He argued the whole of the litigation was a con cooked up by Carroll and her anti-Trump friends. 

“She told two very, very close friends a few years ago to go along with the story, which at first was just meant to be a book — a book and nothng more — that didn’t identify them by name," Tacopina posited. “They agreed because they hated Donald Trump with a passion … and never thought it would go any further.” 

He pointed to messages that Martin sent to another friend complaining about Carroll’s behavior after she filed her first, still-pending lawsuit against Trump in 2019. 

“It’s too hyperbolic. Too much celebratory stuff over something that hasn’t really happened,” Martin wrote. “She said next she’s gonna sue [Trump] when adult victims of rape law is passed in New York state or something … It’s gone to another level, and not something I can relate to. For her, sadly, I think this quest has become a lifestyle. Seriously.” 

On the stand, Martin explained that although she believed Carroll and still does, she had doubts because “I didn’t know where she was going with this.” The law Martin had been referring to, called the Adult Survivors Act, would be passed in November 2022. It opened a one-year look-back window for survivors to file time-barred claims. Minutes after the law took effect on Thanksgiving of last year, Carroll filed the suit for which Trump is now on trial.

Tacopina gave jurors a rundown of what he argued was inconsistent or implausible about Carroll's case.

“We are going to take a journey to justice,” he told jurors, “as I show you how this story falls apart piece by piece.” 

On the list: Bergdorf’s is a high-end store known for its customer service, but Carroll said no sales associates were in the lingerie section that evening. Carroll didn’t file a police report or write about the alleged rape in her diary. She had a motive to sell her book and a political hatred of Trump. She watched and enjoyed “The Apprentice,” Trump’s reality show, and continued to shop at Bergdorf’s. 

Questions about how Carroll reacted in the moment and the aftermath drew sharp criticism from Carroll herself. 

“I’m telling you, he raped me, whether I screamed or not,” she told Tacopina during a line of questioning about the reasons Carroll had given for not calling for help. “I don’t need an excuse for not screaming.” 

Carroll said that being asked questions like, “Why didn’t you scream?” are one of the reasons women keep silent about assault. 

On rebuttal, her attorney Michael Ferrara accused Tacopina of painting a picture of a “perfect rape victim,” one who doesn’t flirt, who screams, who doesn’t return to the scene where they were attacked. 

“The perfect rape victim is never happy again. That’s the defense’s out-of-date, out-of-touch view, and it’s as wrong as it is offensive,” Ferrara said. 

Those questions, Ferrara argued, are also irrelevant: “If consent is not the defense, why does it matter if she screamed? Why does it matter if she laughed? Why does it matter if she walked into the dressing room first?” 

Tacopina fought the idea that he was suggesting survivors need to act a certain way. 

“I’m a father of two daughters. I would never tell a real rape victim how they should actually act or what they should actually or shouldn’t do,” Tacopina said. “I was asking that question because she gave four different answers for why she says she didn't scream.”

Carroll had said she was “not a screamer,” that her adrenaline was flowing, she didn’t want to make a scene, and Trump’s body was positioned in a way that prevented her from calling out. 

Tacopina also accused Carroll of ripping her story from a 2012 episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" that contained a brief reference to a sexual fantasy involving rape in a Bergdorf Goodman fitting room. 

“I didn’t hear a word about that during Ms. Kaplan’s summation,” Tacopina said. “It’s lethal. It’s proof. She, Ms. Carroll herself, called this an astonishing coincidence.” 

Ferrara sought to dash that theory during his rebuttal: “Yeah, why not model your big conspiracy on an episode of television that 6 million people have seen? Who’s going to notice, other than those 6 million people? It makes no sense.”

Carroll’s attorneys raised the point several times that Trump had not even bothered to come to trial, but wanted to cast everyone in Carroll’s camp as a liar. This was not, Ferrara argued, a “he said, she said” case; Carroll had too many witnesses for that. 

“Now, at the end of this trial, we see there wasn’t even a ‘he said,’ because Donald Trump never looked you in the eye and denied it,” Ferrara said in his final statement to the jury. “Find him liable for assaulting and defaming E. Jean Carroll.” 

Casting Trump as simply defending himself against “the worst thing you can accuse someone of,” Tacopina insisted that Carroll’s team was out to get his client. 

“They hope you will be blinded by the hatred for Donald Trump,” Tacopina said, then added, “if you feel that way.”

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Categories / Civil Rights, Entertainment, Media, Trials

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